The last time the Vikings had an executive in Kwesi Adofo-Mensah's spot — the man running his first draft room in Minnesota — the year was 2007. The team was operating out of cramped confines at Winter Park, drafting players who would play their rookie seasons in now-defunct venues such as the Georgia Dome, Texas Stadium, Giants Stadium, Candlestick Park and the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
The Vikings had the seventh pick of the two-day affair that began on a Saturday morning and ended on a Sunday afternoon. Rick Spielman, then the team's vice president of player personnel, used his first selection on a running back named Adrian Peterson.
Fifteen years later, Adofo-Mensah will oversee the Vikings' $750,000 draft board in their palatial TCO Performance Center complex, filling out the roster for the team's seventh season at U.S. Bank Stadium. He comes to the job with economics degrees from Princeton and Stanford, a professional network that includes Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey and a stint in the Browns' front office under general manager Andrew Berry, Adofo-Mensah's Harvard-educated mentor.
Put simply, the changes in the Vikings' football operation this winter were the latest big overhaul in a stretch that's been full of them.
And this draft — in which Adofo-Mensah will pick players for new coach Kevin O'Connell's first team in Minnesota — is effectively the first road test for a leadership group that has talked about lots of culture changes but has made relatively minor changes to the roster this offseason.
"I hope they don't say it's my signature about anything [on the draft]. It's our signature," Adofo-Mensah said Tuesday. "You know, when you sit in a room with Kevin, he always kind of winces when you say, 'I' or 'me,' and that's kind of what we're building here. This is about 'we.' I'm not going to do anything for the sake of me or any type of perception I want out there in the public. We're going to do what's best for this organization."
The Vikings kept much of their core intact, embarking on what Adofo-Mensah termed a "competitive rebuild" after co-owner Mark Wilf indicated ownership expects the team to be "super-competitive" this fall. They again found themselves in salary cap constraints that limited how much they could alter the roster this offseason; the Vikings signed Harrison Phillips from the Bills, and picked up a pair of well-established street free agents (Za'Darius Smith from the Packers and Jordan Hicks from the Cardinals), but made few other big moves to a team that finished a game out of the playoffs each of the past two years.
The draft, though, allows the Vikings to operate relatively free from cap constraints. They retained their scouting operation from Spielman's front office, marrying it with a new coaching staff and a data-driven general manager whose philosophy on the value of certain players, positions and picks could differ significantly from how the Vikings have done things in the past.
After Spielman took 38 players in his final three drafts, the Vikings begin the weekend with eight picks and no fourth-rounder (Spielman dealt it to the Jets for tight end Chris Herndon last year).
Adofo-Mensah said Tuesday he thinks "volume is really important" with draft picks, but also offered an indicator he might operate differently from Spielman, who picked 14 players in the sixth or seventh rounds in his final two drafts.
"In the NFL, it's sort of between the NBA dynamic where special players do matter, but you've got a big team and you've got depth needed and you've got things you've got to fill out," Adofo-Mensah said. "Now, I would push that whatever chart anybody is using, there's no amount of seventh-round picks that will equal the value of a first pick. You could do that with a thousand seventh-round picks and that's not going to equal the value because there's a specialness that comes with that first-round pick that isn't replaceable very easily."
The Vikings' approach, as the new GM put it, is a "real-life algorithm" that combines inputs from coaches, scouts and data people to arrive at a final outcome.
"I wouldn't say it's putting more weight on [one than] the other," Adofo-Mensah said. "It's using them all equally and then closing the loop when they don't all agree. If one person says the outcome is different than their ability, well, let's figure that out. Ultimately, that's what we try to do: close the loop and ultimately figure out a good answer to decide where we want to be."
The Vikings have both immediate defensive needs (at cornerback, particularly) and long-term offensive questions (about possible replacements for costly veterans and the right time to think about the future at quarterback).
By 9 p.m. Thursday, after the Vikings have either made the 12th pick in the draft or traded out of the spot, there will be plenty of inferences made — many of them likely premature — about how similar or different this front office will be to the one that has handled the past 15 Vikings drafts.
The team's overall strategy for the weekend will provide perhaps a more worthwhile indicator of how it will draft during the new era. In reality, the impacts of what Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell do this weekend won't be felt for months, if not years. But this weekend represents their first real chance to put their plans into motion.
"We like where we are, but by no means do we feel like we've done anything," Adofo-Mensah said. "We feel like we just got started for where we're going."